Monday, May 30, 2011

Excuses, excuses

Years ago, I attended a parish mission with my family. One of the talks given by a priest whose name I can't remember--I was, I think, a young teen at the time--struck me so forcefully that I still ponder it on occasion.

This priest spoke of a time when, as a small child, he'd visited his aunt and uncle's farm. He'd been warned to stay away from the pigs--but there were piglets, he said, and they were so cute and small, that he began to rationalize and make excuses. Sure, he was supposed to be careful around the pigs--but it must be okay to just get near them and look at them. Sure, he had to remember that the new moms were skittish about having their children handled. Sure, his uncle didn't want him doing anything dangerous--but he knew he could be careful. He'd just open the gate a tiny bit, and...

...and, of course, all the pigs got out, and he got in huge trouble, and was lucky not to have been seriously injured in the process.

Excuses, said this priest, were the clear danger sign that a soul is contemplating sin or trying to diminish it. Whether that sin is the sin of childish disobedience, or whether it's something else, the minute we start rationalizing and excusing and explaining away something dubious we know we're not really on the side of the angels. When our conduct is forthright and honorable we don't need to trump up reasons for it: our actions will speak loud and clear on their own. And if we're not terribly proud of something we've done, we should admit it heroically, accept the consequences, and move on.

I've started to realize that this same sort of thing is true, albeit to a lesser extent, even beyond our own selves. How often do we excoriate conduct in someone we don't know well and make excuses for the exact same conduct in someone we do know well--a friend, a family member, someone we love? How often--and here I speak to my fellow moms--are we harshly critical about what someone else's kids do or say or wear or get involved in--and yet we'll make excuses for those same things, major, minor, and everywhere in between, for our own? How often do we nod our heads at talk radio or snarky blogs or emails about those terrible politicians on the other side of the aisle, and ignore the indiscretions, multiple marriages, or criminal offenses among the politicians on our own side? We don't just focus on the specks in our neighbors' eyes: we hold "Adopt-a-Plank" rallies for our favorite celebrities, politicians, family members, and friends.

I've been thinking over the three-day weekend about the situation involving Fr. Shawn Ratigan and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. I've read a few news articles and blog posts about it, and seen a few comments at these places discussing the matter. And, perhaps because I've been involved in these discussions for a while now, I've started to cringe every time I come across the various ways we Catholics will become defensive and trot out well-worn excuses every time a situation like this one comes up, instead of trying to do what we can to help clear up the mess, even if it's not a mess of our own making.

At one point I used to make a lot of the excuses, too. I'm not holding myself up as blameless. I've probably used one or more of the following items in conversations before, as a way of trying to deflect the reflected shame of the Scandal. But I'm done with that, and have been for some time now, which is why I think it's time to talk about:

Seven excuses brought up by Catholics in discussions about clergy scandals:

1. There's more child sexual abuse in schools. Statistically this is true. It is also a red herring. What is an acceptable rate of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests? If you didn't answer "Zero!" then you may want to reconsider. Priests are not, statistically, just anybody. They're supposed to go through intensive seminary formation and education. They're supposed to embrace chastity in a way that is heroic and prophetic. Granted that a truly clever and intelligent pedophile might conduct himself in such a way that he is able to be ordained without ever showing in any way his twisted proclivities--and that's a big thing to grant, because quite frankly any seminary program that isn't utterly useless should be able to weed out most people with kinky desires for sexual contact with children--there are also supposed to be significant protections already in place to identify a pedophile should one get ordained and wind up in active ministry. Other places where pedophiles gain access to children--schools, day care centers, sports activities, etc.--have much lower standards and a much shorter entry process for prospective employees. If even one pedophile gets ordained, let alone if even one pedophile actually manages to abuse children (and, yes, taking "upskirt" photos of seven-year-old girls is abuse), the Church is failing miserably to do something that it is vital that she do well: train and ordain good men to the priesthood.

2. It's the media's fault. In other words, sure, some things have happened, but the evil media hates the Church and will always blow stories of clerical sexual abuse out of proportion. Again, this isn't something that is entirely false: our media reflects our culture, and our culture is opposed to truth, virtue, and morality, especially as expressed by ancient Christianity and by the Church in continuum with that ancient expression. If you hand the news media a stick with which to beat the Church, you might as well have handed them a club. The problem here is that the sex abuse scandal exists quite independently of the reporting of it. If anything is true, it is that there are cases that the media will never learn about, because all the parties agreed long ago to silence, or because the victims are too traumatized or too deeply hurt by what was done to them to come forward publicly. The Scandal does not exist because it is being reported; it is being reported because it exists and is so egregious, so wicked, so perfidious, so contrary to the Gospel which Christ gave us and which His Church is supposed to be dedicated to that the contrast alone is newsworthy. We may not like that, but the way to change the headlines is to change the behavior of those who commit these crimes and those who participate in cover-ups; it is not to blame the headline-writers for doing what is, after all, their job. Individual cases of media bias--outrageous, in the case of the New York Times, for one example--have occasionally surfaced; but those are usually opinion pieces, not factual reporting. Incorrect facts or biased opinions should be addressed--but we do ourselves no service to pretend that all of the coverage is incorrect or biased by definition, and that the evil media jackals are just attacking the holy Church as they are wont to do, instead of dealing with the ugly realities that are indeed sometimes much worse than the papers say they are.

3. It's Vatican II's fault. I've seen this one over and over: the notion that the Second Vatican Council let the "smoke of Satan" into the Church and is therefore the true reason why priests commit crimes against children, or bishops fail to do what must be done in these cases. In vain does the observer of the Scandal point to the number of men ordained before Vatican II who went on to be credibly accused of wicked crimes; the person who blames Vatican II for the Scandal has already decided that Vatican II is responsible for most of the evils which exist in the world today (and particularly in the Christian world). The logic goes something like this: Vatican II downplayed sin and tapped into an "anything goes" spirit; therefore, the acceptance of sin and the notion that chastity is really impossible for anyone are the direct causes of clerical pedophilia or other crimes against little ones. A corollary to this excuse is the idea that Vatican II opened the doors to let homosexuals be ordained, and thus created an atmosphere in the seminaries and elsewhere of sexual libertinism, making it possible for pedophiles and ephebophiles to flourish and become ordained. The problem with blaming any of this on Vatican II (other than the reality I've already pointed out, namely, that there were men ordained long before VII that committed crimes against children) is that the Council itself certainly didn't call for downplaying sin, for libertinism, or for widespread sexual misconduct in seminaries. To the extent that these things happened, the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the bishops under which they happened--and as some of these bishops are now deceased, we should probably offer prayers for their souls, in fear and trembling, and bearing in mind the warning of our Lord given in Matthew 18:6.

4. It's society's fault. The argument here is that society is so sex-saturated that we're being unrealistic to think that anyone, even ordained priests, can really avoid sexual temptation. Society is, indeed, deeply dysfunctional when it comes to sex, and as every Christian parent knows, assaults on the chastity and innocence of children--and of adults--are everywhere in our culture, especially in the entertainment industry's products. But blaming society for the decline in morals isn't an answer when we're talking about the Church, is it? The Church is supposed to be transforming society, not being held a prisoner to it. If the Church doesn't have the power to challenge the culture enough to be able to identify and remove child predators from ordained ministry, then how is the Church supposed to help the rest of us repent and live by the Gospel?

5. The devil made them do it. I hear or read this one a lot, and it goes like this: the Church isn't really failing to identify pedophiles or other sexual predators in the seminary. In fact, these are good, holy men who have been ordained--but the devil hates priests so much that he preys upon them, tempting them ceaselessly with twisted images and lewd desires in a way that we lay people just never experience. Sadly, some of them fall into sin--but it's because of the devil and his hatred for priests and for the Church, not because there was ever anything wrong with them or because various superiors closed their eyes to red flags and warning signs that any decent parent would find deeply suspicious. In case you haven't guessed, I really dislike this particular excuse. It's not that I don't think that the devil tempts us, or that he may target some clergy members specifically--but I have a firm belief that we ought never to blame the devil for the evils that the world and the flesh tempt us to quite unaided. And even if the devil is tempting a priest to abuse children--it's not as though that temptation equals the cancellation of free will! Regardless of the source of our temptations, we all retain the will to say "no," except in cases where the will really is compromised (such as invincible ignorance, or habit, or coercion, or mental illness, etc.). Blaming the devil for the Scandal is like saying that the abusers weren't really responsible owing to diabolic influence, and unless there is proof that this is actually the case in some specific incident, it is a weak excuse.

6. It's the celibate male priesthood's fault (e.g.if only priests could marry/women could be priests/etc...). I hear and read this one more on the "progressive Catholic" side of things, where the speaker or writer believes that the Scandal could be fixed or wouldn't have happened in the first place if married men or women had been ordained. Mark Shea does a good job of showing the inadequacy of this one, by illustrating incidents of child sexual abuse involving women, married people, etc. The thing to remember here is that pedophiles go where there are children, and this includes the Church. Some of them may be drawn to the priesthood because they believe that ordination will help them tame their illicit desires; others may want to be priests simply because of the level of access to children this vocation may give them. If the priesthood were opened up to married men (let alone women, which isn't going to happen and shouldn't happen), all that would change is that some of those accused of child abuse would be married men.

7. It's the laity's fault. This is sort of the "flip side" to the "The devil made them do it" excuse. In this version, though, it's because the laity are contracepting, aborting, fornicating, cohabitating, committing sins of adultery and homosexual activity, while also failing to pray and make acts of sacrifice and self-denial specifically for holy priests that priests fall into sin. Both the sinfulness of the laity and the laity's failure to support the priesthood through greater acts of prayer, penance and sacrifice leads inexorably, in this view, to clergy sins and to the Scandal of child sexual abuse by priests. A slightly different take on this blames the victims of abuse, parents of victims, and other lay people for failing to stop abuse or for trusting clergy members around children. In the case involving Father Ratigan, we've seen this as people have blamed the school principle who wrote a lengthy memo detailing Fr. Ratigan's behavior around children for not following up, for not contacting the police, etc. when it's not at all clear that she could have done so (she was not the one, for instance, who saw the nude image of the child from Father's computer, and the behavior she details in the memo were red flags, not criminal activities). Yet there have been plenty of people willing to blame this principal for Fr. Ratigan's continuation in ministry until his arrest, instead of being critical of the bishop, the vicar general, etc.

I know there are more than these seven excuses, but these are the ones I've encountered time and time again (and some of them, alas, I used to use myself). What prompts this sort of thing? Is it tribalism, the need to defend one's own tribe at all costs? Is it unwillingness to confront the reality of the evil of clergy sex abuse of children? Is it defeatism--the notion that as we can't do anything to change the culture inside the chanceries, the bubble and see-no-evil and protect the clergy mindset that has allowed these situations to flourish we might as well pretend that things aren't that bad?

Whatever the case might be, these excuses started to fall apart for me when I truly considered the victims of abuse. When you see or read about an innocent child who has been exploited or violated or otherwise harmed spiritually, sexually, physically, emotionally by the predations of the very person who is supposed to be an alter Christus to them--you can't brush away the Scandal by blaming the media or Vatican II or lay teachers who abuse other kids. All you can do is acknowledge the evil, and pledge to do whatever you can, even if it is very little and seems very small, to make the kinds of changes that will protect children from these dreadful crimes.

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! I wrote about the holiday on Friday so I could skip blogging today. :) If you missed it, here it is:

To hold in memory

God bless all who have lost their lives in service to our country--and may we never take those sacrifices lightly or enter wars foolishly again.

Friday, May 27, 2011

It's time to pop the chancery bubble

Astonishing account of how Bishop Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph never saw, never even read the letter warning of accused priest Fr. Shawn Ratigan's inappropriate behavior with children until after the priest's arrest (hat tip: Deacon Kandra):

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bishop Robert W. Finn said today he had not seen a year-old letter from a Catholic elementary school principal warning of the aberrant behavior of a local priest who was arrested May 19 for possessing child pornography.

Finn said he only saw the letter from principal Julie Hess yesterday.

Hess delivered the letter to the diocesan vicar general in May 2010 -- exactly one year before the arrest of Fr. Shawn Ratigan and seven months before the diocese removed him from his parish.

At a press conference called for 3 p.m. today, Finn said he was given a “brief verbal summary” of the letter by Murphy a year ago, that he had read it in its entirety for the “first time” last night (May 26), and that, “to the best of his knowledge,” no one other than the vicar general had read the letter before yesterday.

Finn said: “Hindsight makes it clear that I should have requested from Msgr. Murphy an actual copy of the report.” Read yesterday's NCR story: Diocese was warned of priest's aberrant behavior one year before arrest

Hess is principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, Mo. The school is attached to the parish that Ratigan served as pastor. [Link in original--E.M.]

Do I believe that Bishop Finn received only a verbal report of the problem which downplayed the accused priest's behavior so much that the bishop did not realize that this was not a minor problem? Yes, I do. I've written to and contacted chanceries before, and it's almost impossible to pop the bubble of gate-keeping and protection that surrounds the average Catholic bishop, unless you are a family member or a close friend, or something.

When the chancery bubble existed to keep the bishop from having to answer questions about his policies of liturgical wreckovation, his encouragement of dissident priests or dissenting theologians, or his own heretical notions (as was sometimes the case), it was an annoyance. Now that we see the chancery bubble being employed to keep a bishop from understanding that one of his priests was sending up major pedophilia red flags and from acting on that information, however, the chancery bubble has gone from being annoying to being an abomination.

For far too long, too many (though not all) of our bishops in America have hidden within the confines of the chancery bubble, content to let various clergy (like the vicar general) or lay employees (such as secretaries and heads of departments) field all the calls, handle all the letters, soothe down the public, bear the brunt of negative opinion and shield the bishop himself from those who expressed them, whether malcontents, axe-grinders, troublemakers, or those with legitimate complaints. Even today few bishops will make an email address available--or read the emails sent to them, if they do have such a newfangled thing.

Sure, we don't want bishops to spend all of their time handling the negative opinions of their flocks. But by hiding in the bubble, the bishops have become vulnerable to those chancery officials who deal with negativity by pretending the problems aren't real. When the matters were merely liturgical or political, that was frustrating, but not harmful. When the matters involve faithless priests preying on children, though, we've crossed a line into grossly irresponsible behavior.

It's time to pop the chancery bubble. It's time for bishops to make themselves available to the people, not to keep getting all of their information filtered through those whose "Don't worry...be happy..." approach is downright negligent. Hopefully Bishop Finn's experience here will serve as a reminder to our shepherds that they're not supposed to be letting a ring of wolves around them tell them why the sheep are restless, disturbed, drifting, and losing faith and trust in them--or, worse, pretend that none of that is even happening.

To hold in memory

In my high school Latin class, we learned the phrase, "In memoriam tenere," which my teacher translated as, "To hold in memory." I remember being struck by the melodiousness of the Latin words and the depth of their meaning.

We are holding a lot of people in memory right now, as Americans. So many tragic deaths; so many lives cut short by devastating storms dropping out of the sky with little warning. The news this week has been hard to read, as the people of Joplin find more of their dead, and mourn those they'd hoped against hope to find alive.

Life on Earth is full of suffering and grief. We do well to remember, pray for, and honor those who have gone before us; it unites us in our humanity, as children of the same Father who holds us in His loving hands all the days of our lives.

This weekend, and especially this coming Monday, we honor in a special way those who have sacrificed their lives in service to our nation, in the armed forces. We sometimes think of those sacrifices as long-ago, far-off things; it's easy to forget that our soldiers are still fighting and dying in far away places. We can, and should, debate the policies and goals and morality of these wars--but we should not denigrate those who serve, or fail to stand in respectful gratitude and solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in these battles.

When death sweeps forth from the sky in a demonstration of the fearful power of nature in a fallen world, we can only weep and wonder. When human beings take up arms against each other and inflict that kind of suffering on families and communities, we should take responsibility, and question most seriously whether we are still doing any good in these far-off, foreign wars--whether, in fact, it is not beyond the time we should be taking firm steps to bring our men and women home (and, perhaps, discussing with gravity whether they should ever have been sent to these wars in the first place). We do not dishonor the memory of the fallen to have these conversations; it would be a greater dishonor to their memories to pretend that their lives and deaths should not matter to our policies and goals.

There are times when the only recourse of virtue is to take up arms against evil. But we treat the matter entirely too facilely if we assume that taking up arms is the only recourse of virtue in every situation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses in detail the Just War theory and the notion of moral responsibility even in times of war; how many wars in our lifetimes have met any, let alone all, of these criteria?

In our prayers of thanksgiving and remembrance for those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation, I hope we will also pray for an end to war and the suffering and death it produces, and for a greater moral seriousness in the policies and decisions that lead nations into conflict with each other. As we hold in memory those who have died for our country, and those many suffering, grieving family members they have left behind, let us increase our resolve to reject war as the means of solving international conflict, and pray for peace and brotherhood with all men.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The two biggest problems with diocesan Catholic education

Many thanks to the reader who shared this link with me, concerning the friction that sometimes exists between homeschooling Catholics and their local dioceses:

According to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), parents are the primary educators of their children, and Catholic home-schoolers take that commitment seriously. For them, their homes are places where authentic Catholic education occurs, and many members of the clergy and hierarchy agree with them. Several dioceses explicitly recognize home schooling as a valid option for Catholic education.

But not all priests and bishops agree. At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, the bishops wrote that parents have an obligation to send their children to parochial schools, and some clergy members today say Catholic home-schoolers abrogate that responsibility.

The latest skirmish flared earlier this year when the Holy Family Homeschoolers Association invited Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez to celebrate a blessing Mass at the beginning of the next school year. The response came not from the bishop’s office but from the Catholic schools superintendent, Ned Vanders, who wrote:

“Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall home-schooling blessing Mass.Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the Church.“Bishop’s presence at the home-schooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic home schooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.Sincerely in Christ,Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.” [Links in original: E.M.]

Of course, no article about Catholic homeschoolers would be complete without quotes from the militantly anti-homeschooling priest, Fr. Peter Stravinskas:

Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation, has become something of a bete noire for the Catholic home-schooling community, championing the idea that Catholic children should be educated in Catholic schools. [...]

“On the same property where they go to church on Sunday is a school where the parents don’t wish to send them,” he said.

That leads to a subtle anti-clericalism, he said, because the children learn that priests cannot be counted on to hand on the faith. It shows in what he sees as a dearth of vocations from home-school families. “Why would you want to join the club if its members can’t be trusted to their jobs?” he said.

He also believes it is psychologically unhealthy for mothers to spend 24 hours a day with their children as they get older, and it’s academically nearly impossible for one person to teach all that is included in a modern high school curriculum.

What’s more, he said, some home-school families say they have no issues with the faculty or teaching at their local Catholic schools, but they don’t want their children exposed to others whose families might not have the same values as theirs.

As respectfully and pro-clerically as possible, Father S.: bunkum.

There is an interesting omission in this article, one which is mentioned almost immediately by the article's many commenters: if parents are committed to being open to life and possibly welcoming many children, and if they are also committed to the idea that a child needs his or her mother at home during his or her young years, that family is rarely going to be able to afford a Catholic education for their children. In other words, the one-or-two child, two income family can frequently afford to pay $5,000 per year (and up) for grade school, and $10,000 per year (and up) for high school for each child. The single-income family with many children will find this same price impossible unless they are independently wealthy or have some relative or friend who is financing the children's education.

It is my honest belief that some--possibly many--priests do not get this at all. I had a conversation with a priest online about this some years ago: here in the Fort Worth Diocese most people pay $5000 per child per year for K-8 at the Catholic schools, and therefore our tuition price would have been $15,000 per year at the time (it would be more than $25,000 per year now, with two in high school!). The priest responded that when people make Catholic school a priority it is usually possible, but people don't want to give up their expensive cars and annual vacations. I told Father that we had one older car fully paid for, no second car, and have taken no vacations in 15 years of marriage that didn't involve driving to and staying with family (and precious few of those, as my mother and mother-in-law would each swear to), and that further the annual payment on our modest home was $5000 per year less than the tuitions would have been back at the time (today, of course, tuition would cost us more than double our annual house payment). I don't, however, believe that he was convinced that we truly could not afford Catholic school tuition in our diocese.

Of course, some of Fr. Stravinskas' claims are laughable. Savvy commenters to the OSV piece quickly pointed out that 4% of today's ordinands were homeschooled at some point and that less than 3% of all children are homeschooled, which means that homeschoolers' vocations are booming--and we're barely at the edge of young people old enough to have been homeschooled during the years when homeschooling has risen in popularity and social and legal acceptability. As far as psychologically healthy--how healthy was it for me, over two decades ago, to sit in a health class in this Catholic high school (which now costs close to $13,000 per year not including fees) and have the health teacher ridicule the Church's teaching against contraception, make fun of NFP (which she thought of as the "rhythm" method), and insist that yes, we were going to need condoms and pills soon if we didn't need them already (because, apparently, nobody actually takes the Church's teaching against fornication seriously or values chastity or virginity anymore)?

But the crux of the matter is this: if Catholic homeschooling parents don't trust the local diocese to do a good job of educating our children in the faith, we have good reasons. The Catholic school of today teaches religion as a separate, free-floating subject. They then take the exact same secular approach to all the other subjects as the local public school does; they have to. Parents who pay Catholic school tuition in most dioceses are paying for one religion class and an atmosphere "in the Catholic tradition," which essentially means some school Masses and a little more orderliness than the public school can offer. Is that even worth $5,000 to $10,000 or more a year?

The statistic I want to see is this, but as far as I know it hasn't ever been tracked: what percent of Catholic grade school and high school graduates lose the faith, stop going to Mass, or leave the Church for another religion or for no religion at all? How does that statistic compare to Catholics educated in public schools and to Catholic home schooled students?

Without that data, the Catholic schools advocates tend to focus on things like how successful their former students are in life, how many of them receive a college education, how many of them go on to become famous in some career or occupation. But I'd really like to know how many of them remain Catholic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number is not large, but I'd love to see hard data.

Do I think that Catholic homeschooled children never leave the Church? No; but I'd be vastly surprised if the percent of those who do is as high as the percent of diocesan Catholic school students who do. And it's a pretty Faustian bargain to pay somewhere around $80,000 for twelve years of Catholic education per child only to have those children reject the faith and stop going to Mass within a few years after their high school graduations.

The two biggest problems with diocesan Catholic education today are that it doesn't produce very many strong Catholics and it costs entirely too much. Surely, if our goal is to educate a few generations of kids who will go on to leave the Church in droves, we could do it for a lot less money. Or, for even less money, we Catholic homeschoolers can teach our children at home, give them an authentic Catholic education in which every subject is permeated with the presence of God and His great plan for our salvation, and know that we are doing our best to hand on to them, intact and without alteration, the real gift of faith that was given to us by a generous and loving God.


CORRECTION: I am informed that tuition around here is now slightly more than $5000 per child per year at at least one local school, while the diocese's only Catholic high school is more than $12,000 per year (with a discount to "parish supporting" families; I have no idea what level of annual donations is considered "supporting). The high school also charges a $500 non-refundable registration fee which is not applied to total tuition; students purchase their own books at a cost of $500-$800 per year, and fees are between approximately $150 to approximately $300 per year. Students are also required to purchase uniforms from a uniform company; shirts run $30, skirts $45, and jumpers almost $60 for girls; boys' shirts run from $20-$30, pants are also around $45, and shoes run $42 (for the cheapest pair of girls' shoes) to almost $75 a pair.

This is not Catholic (which means, after all, "universal") education. This is education for the wealthy. I'm tired of Catholic bishops not being realistic about, or even aware of, that fact.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Teapot tempests and liturgical storm-chasers

The storms that hit our area last night weren't as bad as the ones that have been hitting other areas, and for us personally, they weren't anything at all. We spent much of last evening listening to Thad's handheld radio as reports of rotation and wind speeds came in, and when the tornado sirens went off several times we took appropriate cover, but we didn't even get rain until the tail end of the last cell came through. The girls and I were relieved; Thad was perhaps a bit disappointed, not because he actually wants anything like the damage and destruction other places have seen to hit us, but because he has not-so-secret dreams involving storm chasing (which is pretty funny considering how cautious and safety-minded he is in general).

A hat tip to the Reflections of a Paralytic blog for posting the Holy Father's condolences to those affected by the Joplin tornado:

THE MOST REVEREND JAMES V. JOHNSTON
BISHOP OF SPRINGFIELD-CAPE GIRARDEAU

THE HOLY FATHER HAS FOLLOWED WITH DEEP CONCERN THE AFTERMATH OF THE CATASTROPHIC TORNADO WHICH STRUCK JOPLIN ON SUNDAY AND HE ASKS YOU TO CONVEY TO THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY THE ASSURANCE OF HIS CLOSENESS IN PRAYER. CONSCIOUS OF THE TRAGIC LOSS OF LIFE AND THE IMMENSITY OF THE WORK OF REBUILDING THAT LIES AHEAD, HE ASKS GOD THE FATHER OF MERCIES TO GRANT ETERNAL REST TO THE DEPARTED, CONSOLATION TO THE GRIEVING, AND STRENGTH AND HOPE TO THE HOMELESS AND THE INJURED. UPON THE LOCAL CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS, AND UPON ALL INVOLVED IN THE RELIEF EFFORTS, HIS HOLINESS INVOKES THE DIVINE GIFTS OF WISDOM, FORTITUDE, AND PERSEVERANCE IN EVERY GOOD.

CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE, SECRETARY OF STATE

A lovely and gracious message of love and concern, is it not? Do you know what it's missing? Look closely.

It's missing this.

Perhaps it is wrong of me to see in that post of Fr. Z's a rather pointed hint that as the tornado has swept away one of those ugly modern buildings it's time to rebuild it, "brick by brick," into something that will be more aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps it's wrong of me to further see, in one admittedly cynical poster's comment that, no, they'll just make the new church bigger and uglier, and in some others' debate about whether or not the bishop of the area is a good guy deserving of donations and support, that side of RadTradism that I'm finding uglier and uglier--yes, even uglier than a 1970s Church of the Regrettable Notions.

People died in Joplin, some of them, quite likely, people who were parishioners of that parish. In the aftermath of terrible events people turn to the Church for support; Mass attendance often becomes quite crowded for a while. The people of that parish, many of whose homes were damaged or destroyed, don't even have their spiritual home to go to for solace or relief. The time for snarky comments about liturgical architecture which leaves something to be desired is not now.

I had a phone call yesterday with a friend who attends the E.F. Mass with her family; she wondered if she's somehow offended me, given that I've been writing so often about "trad" stuff lately. I assured her that it wasn't her. To be frank, it is Father Zuhlsdorf's blog and its commenters that has made me prickly about RadTradism in a way I really wasn't before. My default setting for the O.F./E.F. matter is: live and let live. I am happy to belong to an O.F. parish and to assist at O.F. Masses, and I respect those who choose E.F. parishes and E.F. Masses. The Church in her great generosity gives us both.

But when I started reading Fr. Z.'s blog on a regular basis lately, I felt disheartened. The sense I get from his comment boxes is that Universae Ecclesiae is supposed to be a club wielded against the many, the new English translation of the Mass is a poor substitute for the "real Mass," the Church's real desire is to wait another thirty or forty years and then get rid of the Novus Ordo (when the "biological solution" has had time to kill off all the troublemakers), and that the respect I have for those who attend the E.F. on a regular basis is not always returned by those who attend the E.F. in regard to the rest of us.

Is it Fr. Z.'s fault that his comment boxes are like this? As a blogger whose commenting policy is very open, I have to say no. I will say this, though: his blog has become an absolute stumbling-block to my strong desire to see those who love and attend the E.F. Mass on a regular basis or even exclusively in an open and positive light. In real life, the people I've met who are E.F. Mass attendees are quite nice people. Online--not so much.

The solution is clear: I have to stay away from Trad blogs, including Father Z.'s (perhaps, especially his). From where I am, the various liturgical storms and squabbles rarely pass directly overhead; sometimes there might be a little rain from the tail end of such a storm, and I'm glad to share my opinions when that happens. There's no need for me to be a liturgical storm chaser, and go looking for teapot-tempests in places where I know conditions are favorable for such things to arise.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Male and female He created them

I never like going to the dentist, but I especially hated to leave right after reading Simcha Fisher's piece about Catholic Feminism at the Register today:

My husband says I’m a feminist. I know many liberal feminists would recoil in horror at that assessment: After all, I have all these kids, and I’m a member in good standing with that horrible old misogynistic Church, with its oppressive rules about reproduction and obedience. I’m pro-life and wholeheartedly follow the Magisterium’s teaching on the male priesthood and contraception, and try to make the Blessed Virgin my model.

So what makes me a feminist? Some would say that all faithful Catholics are feminists, because the Church is the most pro-woman organization around: The Church honors and values the particular gifts of women, and demands that men treat women with dignity and even a little bit of fear. John Paul II famously called himself a “feminist pope”; and in practical terms, the Church has probably done more for the physical well-being of women around the world than any other charitable organization.

Catholics who are feminists recognize that, while so many true wrongs have been righted in the last 50 years, the poor treatment of women in America has just been displaced, not eradicated. So now, instead of corsets and disenfranchisement, we have widespread pornography, abortion, and abandonment of every kind. We have gained some necessary ground, but lost so much else that is valuable in the process. Most of my Catholic friends see the world this way.

But are all faithful Catholics feminists?

I think that definition is far too broad. Some women just fall naturally into their roles, and don’t think about it at all. Maybe, as off-putting as it sounds, a feminist is always someone who feels some distress or dissatisfaction with the way women are treated—someone who agitates for change.

There were already over three dozen comments below the piece, but I couldn't even read them, because I had to go to the dentist. Luckily, it was just a routine cleaning, but still! Why couldn't I have gone to the dentist on one of those boring days when everyblogger, myself included, seems to have the "Dull" button stuck on overdrive? Simcha Fisher throws down the lace gauntlet among a reading audience which includes people who think women pollute the sanctuary and should cover themselves head to toe in various types of drapery every day, and I have to go out?

Life can be so unfair.

My dental hygienist is a really nice Christian woman. She's much more outwardly feminine than I am, with her blond hair, pretty earrings, gentle conversation, and sweet personality. She told me about her garden today, with plants she's started from seeds (all but the tomatoes, that is). And about the mama deer with two babies in tow who has been hanging around the garden and getting rather aggressive. And how she was warned that a mama deer can get to the point of actually attacking humans, and how her young son helps her in the garden...so that was when, in her sweet, gentle voice, she mentioned that she's been taking her pistol with her when she does her gardening, and how she really, really hopes it will never be necessary, and how the high-pressure water hose will probably be enough to deter Mama Deer from getting too riled up...but if not...well, she'd hate to do it, because there are those two deer babies...but still...

I wonder how many sweet, gentle-voiced Christian pioneer women routinely employed the family shotgun to keep the deer out of the young, tender plants of the house garden?

To me, the initial burst of feminism, which focused on women's rights to vote, to own property in their own names, and to be treated legally and otherwise as fully human beings in their own right, is perfectly compatible with the Christian understanding of womanhood. In Genesis, after all, the word used to describe what Eve is to be to Adam is often translated "helpmeet." Scholars disagree (as biblical scholars usually do) about exactly what the original Hebrew words are supposed to mean, but they do know that it conveys a couple of ideas: Eve is an opposite to Adam, but she helps him; her role is to help him. Not wait on him slavishly or put up with abuse or bad treatment; not act like a queen and expect him to rush around and wait on her and fulfill her most outlandish whims: help him.

It is unfortunate that this idea of woman was ever twisted in such a way as to create a reality in which women were seen as secondary, second-class, or second-rate. But it was. It is one thing to say that women and men are supposed to be helping each other according to their unique gifts and abilities in the primary duty of all human beings, namely, to know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next, and quite another turn it into a mandate requiring women not only to accept that men see them as inferior beings, but even to think of themselves that way, and to insist that a true understanding of God and His plan for women really does mean that women are and must be inferior to men, as too many Christian churches tell their female adherents in word and deed even today, and as society in general told women for generations.

If we don't understand that feminism began as a reaction against such an un-Christian idea of women as a sort of unhappy afterthought of God's which made it the duty of men to keep them in their place, we will never understand why we are where we are today.

But the Christian feminist can't just stop there. She can't point to the many real ills of the past, and, indeed, in some societies, of the present, and use these as a justification to attack her own female nature, to hate men, to kill unborn children or agitate for their killing, or in other ways to create an even greater rift between men and women than there was before.

The goal of Christian feminism should be a return to the idea of balance, of men and women as equal partners and helpmeets to each other in this work of knowing, loving, and serving God, in a relationship in which neither is exploited, hated, or dismissed, and neither is a tyrant or a despot, but both are respected and loved for their whole selves, including their masculinity or femininity.

Such a vision of men and women as balanced and equal partners does not mean that we have to erase real gender differences or roles; we don't have to wish for women to be priests or for men to receive artificial wombs and give birth. It does, however, mean that we have to stop thinking and acting as though people who don't share our gender are automatically incapable in huge areas; we have to be willing to examine our own consciences and remove those knee-jerk ways in which we think of the opposite gender as somehow intrinsically inferior. For a man, this might mean stopping such thoughts as, "She writes pretty well, for a woman," or "The lead research scientist on this project was a woman, so clearly the research is suspect." For a woman, this might mean stopping herself from thinking, "Men just don't have any feelings," or "I've never yet met a man who can choose his own clothes without ending up dressed like a clown." It's easy for men to stereotype women as foolish, silly, fluffy creatures, and for women to stereotype men as unfeeling, inconsiderate brutes. It's harder to see each person as, first, the image and likeness of God, and then, as uniquely valuable in ways that go far beyond masculinity or femininity.

But that is how God sees us, and how we are supposed to see each other. We women will have to go beyond feminism to get there, just as men had to go beyond the misogynism of the past to begin their journey back to the beginning, when God created Man in His image and likeness: male and female He created them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The great Catholic blogosphere altar girl debate

Of all of the questions about the Ordinary Form of the Mass I've ever discussed here, one of the many I'd rather not get into too much concerns the use of female altar servers, commonly referred to as "altar girls."

This is because I'm torn about it all. I do think that there may well have been some shady business leading to the initial indult permitting their use; I do appreciate and recognize the value of having young men serve at the altar, as many priests trace their initial awareness that God might be calling them to His service as a priest to their early days of serving Mass; and (and this one will get me in trouble, I know) I think that many boys do mature more slowly than girls and are thus much slower to embrace "co-ed" activities--which means that letting girls serve at the altar has had the effect of driving the boys away. I also respect those whose innate traditionalism leads them to dislike the use of altar girls; I myself did not encourage my girls to seek that opportunity in any of our parishes (and, frankly, they're much more greatly needed in the choir), and I respect mothers who decide not to let their sons serve at parishes where they will have to serve with girls for various reasons.

That said, I'm friends--both online and in real life--with people who have no problem letting their daughters serve at Mass. I'm also aware of how terribly hard it is for the gentleman who coordinates altar servers at Mass at our parish to get anybody to serve; he gave up making a schedule, and calls families the week before to find out a) who will be at our 8:30 Mass and b) which of their children who are trained altar servers will be present. The biggest competition on Sunday for children's time and attention these days appears to be organized sports, with mandatory Sunday games scheduled at times that can interfere with even the earliest Sunday Mass--but that's a post for another time and another person (let's face it: we're not a sports family, so it would most likely be better if I didn't write that post).

So this is one of those things which I simply accept, for the most part. I do not find a well-trained and respectful female altar server to be an abomination against God, or any such thing; the Church permits her to serve, and even if there were shenanigans around getting that permission in the first place, it's the Church's business to sort it out, not mine--and it's certainly not the fault of the young lady, her parents, or the parish that gratefully accepts her voluntary service. I do wish that female altar servers would be required to wear appropriate clothing and footwear--because you can tell when a young lady has a very short skirt under a cassock, and wobbly heels or shoes designed to showcase painted toenails seem inappropriate; but then, I don't like to see altar boys serving in shorts under a cassock, either, or wearing grungy gym shoes or crocs when they serve Mass.

Would it be better, all things being equal, for the Church to go back to the rule of only male altar servers, and perhaps encourage girls to take part in different acts of service? Possibly. But, again, that's the Church's decision to make--and, in particular, as far as I'm concerned, it's a decision both my local ordinary and my pastor (in obedience to the bishop) can make. No diocese is required to have female altar servers at every Mass, or at any of them. No pastor is required to permit girls to serve even if the bishop says it's okay. (For that matter, no pastor is required to permit lay readers or required to make use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, male or female--but that's also a topic for another day.) So if you really have a problem with female altar servers, the person to approach first is your own pastor; if he's unwilling to consider banning them, you can try the bishop next--but only if you're willing to be obedient to whatever he says, since it is, after all, his call.

Now: why write about all of this? Three recent blog posts--and their comments, especially their comments, brought this topic to mind.

The first two are Father Z.'s post here, and its follow-up here. Father Z. says that the rules of Universae Ecclesiae (paragraph 28) forbid female altar servers at the Extraordinary Form Mass. As I'm not an expert in the Extraordinary Form I have no particular comment to make about that--but it was distressing to read the number of commenters who just wanted to bash the whole idea of altar girls as they've experienced them at the O.F.--because they're still allowed at the O.F., regardless of whether the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” ultimately says (since they're the final authority) about their use at the E.F. Mass.

The third is Matt Archbold's funny story here about how his first crisis of faith came when, at age eight, he made the shattering discovery that human beings ring the bells at the consecration, not God Himself. You would think that a light-hearted, amusing story like this would be immune from the debate over whether or not girls ought to be permitted to serve at the altar at Mass--but you would be wrong, as the gentleman who shouts in all caps that WOMEN DO NOT BELONG IN THE SANCTUARY.! (sic) will tell you.

Once again, to sum up: I'm aware of the good arguments in favor of keeping altar service exclusively male; I'm also aware that fine young ladies serve at Mass and are permitted, by the present rules, to do so; I'm absolutely fine with this particular battle, such as it is, being "fought" only by pastors and bishops: that is, I think bishops make the rules regarding female altar servers for their dioceses, and provided they're following these rules pastors then make them for their parishes, and that's that. I'm not fine with people shouting at women to get out of the sanctuary and stay out! (at least, until it's time to mop the floors and dust the statues and do, you know, women's work up there--which some commenters on these posts have come right out and said). The problem isn't that women want to serve the Church; the problem isn't even that the Church has decided to permit women to read, serve, or act as EMHC's. No, the problem, in the minds of the few, is that women don't know their place, and that regardless of what the Church herself says about any of this any decent woman should shudder at the mere thought of setting foot on the sacred ground of the sanctuary. Unless, of course, she's there to vacuum it.

And that, I think, is what underlies a lot of the great Catholic blogosphere altar girl debate, which is why it's hard for me, even when I think there are really good things about having boys serve at the altar exclusively, to say so. For every reasonable person who sees altar service as a garden of vocations, you will find two or three more who see "getting rid of those d***ned girl altar-boys" as step one in a program to do away with what they like to call, sneeringly and insultingly, "readerettes," "lectoresses" "cantorettas" or "wanna-be priestesses handing out Communion left and right." To that sort of person, all of the problems with the Catholic Church today all go back to those blankety-bleep feminists coming in and liturgically castrating all of the men, taking over once-gloriously masculine roles and infecting them with cooties, pink glitter, and giggles, and driving decent men away from once-honorable service. Of course, back in the Good Old Days there were enough clergymen always and everywhere that no lay person of either gender was ever needed to fill in for anybody lower than a subdeacon, and his lay substitute was always male, so that ought to be enough to tell us that the Church really doesn't want women reading, or singing, or acting as EMHCs, let alone being altar girls--even if the Church herself has said otherwise for quite some time now.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Don't say gay" bill: good idea, or not?

The rain that came through today (okay, technically we had severe thunderstorms, but since they didn't actually involve large hail or damaging winds where I live it was just a thunderstorm) has triggered one of those annoying migraines I get. So, before I retreat to darkness and ice again, let me open up a topic of conversation: good idea, or not?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A bill passed Friday by the Tennessee Senate would forbid public school teachers and students in grades kindergarten through eight from discussing the fact that some people are gay.

Opponents deride the measure as the "don't say gay bill." They say it's unfair to the children of gay parents and could lead to more bullying. Supporters say it is intended to give teachers clear guidance for dealing with younger children on a potentially explosive topic.

The bill isn't likely to be taken up by the House before lawmakers adjourn this spring, but the sponsor there has said he would push it forward in 2012 when the General Assembly comes back for the second year of the session. [...]

Under the proposal, any instruction or materials at a public elementary or middle school would be limited to age-appropriate lessons about the science of human reproduction.

The legislation was amended from the original version, which said no elementary or middle schools will "provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality." Republican Senate sponsor Stacey Campfield of Knoxville said some of his colleagues were uncomfortable with that language.

Now, it may surprise some of you, but I could see this as something that could be used in a bad way. On the other hand--why are children in K-8 in need of any discussions about sex other than those involving "the science of human reproduction?" Do we really want to encourage 12 or 13-year-olds, let alone younger children, to engage in sexual activity, experimentation, etc?

Since I'm not up to a lengthy post today: you take it from here. Tell me this is a good idea, and why; or tell me it's a bad one, and why. I'll try to check in with the comments tomorrow--or later tonight if, like what my children call my "vampire headaches," this thing leaves me at sundown.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Yes, it's a links post. Read it anyway.

It's time for another one of those links posts in which I share a sentence or two about something I've meant to blog about but haven't--and probably won't get to anytime soon. Here I must, for legal reasons, insert a Sarcasm Alert: some of my comments are not the literal truth. Without further ado, and in no particular order, then, here they are:

1. It is possible to make LED light bulbs that will reach 100 watts, to replace those old energy-hogging incandescents! Problems: the LED chips burn out, requiring miniature fans inside the bulbs to keep them cool; the LED bulbs are potentially toxic waste like the CFL bulbs are, require careful disposal and proper environmental cleanup if they break; and the 100 watt bulb will probably cost about $50. Each. The only thing really being illuminated here is the "Let them burn cash!" attitude of our elected officials--but at least burning money is "green."

2. That great pro-life Catholic university, Notre Dame (and no, I can't even type that with a straight face) only took about two years to decide to drop the charges against the eighty-eight protesters arrested there for trespassing during a pro-life protest when President Obama was visiting to receive Notre Dame's coveted "Society of Judas Iscariot" award, which Notre Dame has itself earned on numerous occasions. And just a couple of weeks later, Notre Dame continues to prove to Catholic Americans that no, really, they are pro-life and do agree with the Church's teachings concerning the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death--by electing a new member to the board of trustees who has proved her pro-life credentials by donating thousands of dollars to help elect pro-abortion Democrats, via the fund-raising group Emily's List (and "Emily" stands for "Exterminate Minority, Impoverished, and Less-desirable Youth," of course).

3. A Facebook friend shared this video titled "Cohabitation Vows." (NSWSCIRWSHTWS *** warning.) It's pretty much right on the mark. Like I always say when someone uses the phrase, "committed relationship," "Oh, so you're married, then? Wait--you're not? But you have some other, non-marital but legally binding committment? No? Well, then, what exactly is committed about your relationship?"

4. Gwyneth Paltrow scattered the largesse of her celebrity beneficence by telling the poor benighted Ordinary People what we should buy for our summer must-haves (around which we can then proceed to build outfits, presumably). Small problem: Gwyneth's must-have items add up to more than $18,000. Now I'm sure that by keeping the sum under six figures Ms. Paltrow thinks she's being recession-minded and all that, but seriously, does the woman ever look out her window at the real world?

5. The CDC gets some "coolness points" for trying to raise public awareness about emergency preparedness by asking the provocative question: are you prepared to survive a Zombie Apocalypse? Unfortunately, the agency then loses a point or two for not taking the opportunity to add a Second Amendment message. Seriously: who fights off Zombies with a utility knife, duct tape, a battery-powered radio, and bleach? Okay, okay: MacGyver. But who else?

6. Reasons number 100805354 and 100805355 (and counting) to homeschool. Enough said.

7. The Republican Party is the Party of no, of negativity, of shameless and evil campaign ads, right? The Democrats never do anything that involves comparing some relatively mild Medicare cuts to throwing grandmothers over scenic outlooks, right? Right? Um...

8. And last, but not least, my friend Larry D has no further excuse to skip ScriptFrenzy next year. I'm warning you, Larry--you'd better sign up next April! Unless, of course, you grow a beard and go all Catholic Apologist on us.




***Not safe with small children in room who shouldn't hear the word "sex."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What does the Church really want?

In the comment box below yesterday's post, a commenter linked to this blog post from last December by Father Z., in which Father discusses a Vatican document from 1997 that few people have heard of:

It is called in English, “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests“.

You will have to look for this document on the website of the Holy See under the Pontifical Council for the Laity. You won’t find it easily by looking on the website under the other dicasteries or by using their so-called “search” feature. [Links in original--E.M.]

Father then shares this document's discussion of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, parts of which are below:

§ 2. Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion.(99) They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion. (100) [...]

To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches:

(...) — the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of “a great number of the faithful”. [Emphasis in original--E.M.]

Seems pretty clear, yes? EMHCs are not supposed to be used every Sunday at Mass.

However, we then read--at the USCCB website--the following:

19. In 1963, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council authorized the extension of the faculty for Holy Communion under both kinds in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, Communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See. . . . (29)

20. The Council's decision to restore Holy Communion under both kinds at the bishop's discretion took expression in the first edition of the Missale Romanum and enjoys an even more generous application in the third typical edition of the Missale Romanum:

Holy Communion has a more complete form as a sign when it is received under both kinds. For in this manner of reception a fuller sign of the Eucharistic banquet shines forth. Moreover there is a clearer expression of that will by which the new and everlasting covenant is ratified in the blood of the Lord and of the relationship of the Eucharistic banquet to the eschatological banquet in the Father's kingdom. (30)

The General Instruction further states that "at the same time the faithful should be guided toward a desire to take part more intensely in a sacred rite in which the sign of the Eucharistic meal stands out more explicitly." (31)

21. The extension of the faculty for the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds does not represent a change in the Church's immemorial beliefs concerning the Holy Eucharist. Rather, today the Church finds it salutary to restore a practice, when appropriate, that for various reasons was not opportune when the Council of Trent was convened in 1545. (32) But with the passing of time, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the reform of the Second Vatican Council has resulted in the restoration of a practice by which the faithful are again able to experience "a fuller sign of the Eucharistic banquet." (33) (All links in original--E.M.)
And under the norms for distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds on the same page, the use of EMHCs is mentioned.

So the question then becomes: which is the priority, in the mind of the Church? That EMHCs be used rarely or, preferably, not at all at Mass, but only to take Communion to the sick of the parish--or that the faithful be able to receive Holy Communion under both kinds? The objection that I'm quoting from the USCCB site, by the way, in no way changes that the USCCB is quoting from official Church documents expressing a preference for Holy Communion under both kinds.

It is true that in some places in the world, this is not an either/or question. There are enough ordained priests and deacons present at every Mass in some places that the laity are not needed to help in this way.

But where I live, for instance, we have one priest handling one parish consisting of two churches--the main church and our mission church. It could be argued (especially at the main church at some Masses where the crowd overflows onto the porch) that the Mass would be unduly prolonged if Father had to give only the Body of Christ, by himself, to all the people present. There would almost never be an occasion for people to receive under both kinds.

And here is where I find myself, as a lay person, completely unable to say with any certainty what the Church herself wants. Does she want Communion under both kinds frequently or even regularly available to the faithful? Or does she want EMHCs phased out of the liturgy completely and only permitted (a little grudgingly, perhaps) to take Communion to the sick since there aren't enough priests and deacons everywhere to do that work of charity? Because aside from a few pockets where there are enough priests and deacons to make EMHCs totally unnecessary, these are mutually exclusive goals.

This is just one example--there are many. But this kind of thing is why I find myself a little out of patience with, for instance, people who think the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite will be eradicated in the relatively near future; or, on the other hand, with those who think that permitting the Extraordinary Form was a bad mistake, and that the E.F. should be suppressed (not that I know any such people, but I hear they hang out at the NCReporter). There is a tendency to take what one would prefer for oneself and convince oneself that this is what the Church really wants.

Which is not to say that the Church doesn't really want some specific reforms to take place; she does, and she is good about making those things relatively clear (new translation, anyone?). But it highlights the danger of thinking that what we think the Church wants is actually so.

And I'll close with a poll (low tech, as always), to show how different faithful Catholics might answer the same question differently, all of us thinking that we probably have a good idea of what the Church really wants:

What does the Church really want for the Roman Rite of the Mass?

a) She wants the Ordinary Form to prevail, with some reforms, and the Extraordinary Form eventually to be phased out.

b) She wants the Extraordinary Form to prevail, with no reforms at all, and the Ordinary Form eventually to be phased out.

c) She wants both Forms to continue side by side for at least the next several hundred years, each informing the other, each enriching the other.

d) She wants a new single Rite to be created which will look more like the E.F. than the O.F.

e) She wants a new single Rite to be created which will look more like the O.F. than the E.F.

f) She wants something else (and if you choose this option, please describe).

I lean toward "C" of these options. I think both Forms will continue for the lengthy future, and if there is a blending of the two into one it will be an organic development in which neither form "wins" everything. But I look forward to hearing what you have to say--so please leave your comments in the comment box!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A soapbox moment

Mark Shea is in rare form today, doing what he does best:

So, after three years of this nonsense, you finally head for another parish because you feel you must, just to keep your family safe from the boredom punctuated by nuttiness. All this I grant as a perfectly legitimate thing for a Catholic to do who is really surrounded by grotesque distortions of Catholic teaching.

But the problem is this: You can get hyper-sensitized and bitter. The shock of discovering that the average Catholic is average leaves you prone to see not just a gross violation as a sign of creeping apostasy, but everything as a sign of creeping apostasy. The distance between the vision of the Universal Church you have seen in the theology books and life as it is lived at the parish level throws you into crisis.

At which point you have a choice. You can face the fact that the Church has always been a hospital for screw-ups with Simon Peter (and, um, you) as chief of the cowards, shufflers, and snobs who make up our band of sinners in desperate need of treatment… or you can scan the herd with your gimlet eye and decide that they are a pack of “clapping fornicators” whose only wish is to profane the Eucharist with their “grubby hands” (as my reader above so generously put it elsewhere).

You can choose to sit in judgment of a priest reverently celebrating a valid Mass and accuse him of “turning his back on God” while admiring your own “humble awe” as you sneer in disgust at your average neighbor for not being up to snuff. In short, you can enter into the prideful fantasy of believing that the average Catholic is not merely average but your enemy, and that there exists somewhere the Perfect Parish with Perfect Liturgy and Perfect People. Because, as we all know, the Tridentine Rite Catholic is blissfully free of fornication and all other serious sin and always was until the damned Second Vatican Council introduced the Seven Deadly Sins into Catholic life.

My reader’s impatient contempt for, well, about 99 percent of the Church outside the hothouse of his tiny subculture will sooner or later run up against the George McClellan Principle of Utopian Christianity: namely, that though he has arrived, for the moment, in what he fancies is the perfect sect within the Church and escaped the pollution of, well, virtually all of what the Church herself calls “the Church,” he has also brought himself. And that means that sooner or later he will again confront the imperfections of the people around him — and his own imperfections as well.

At that point, he will either have to face the fact that the Church is basically made for slobs and screw-ups and the incorrigibly Average or else blame his troubles on everybody else and leave again for someplace still purer. To the question, “What’s wrong with the Church?” he will have to answer either humbly, “I am” or proudly, “They are!”

Read the whole thing here.

Now, Mark framed this blog post in terms of a Rad-Trad Catholic's view of the Novus Ordo Mass-attending Catholics because he actually had a Rad-Trad Catholic call his fellow Catholics who attend the Ordinary Form "clapping fornicators" and the like. I recall the exchange well, and found it astonishing that someone could speak so sweepingly of his fellow Catholics in such an unjustly judging way.

But I know perfectly well--and I'm sure Mark does too--that there are "Stanford Nutting" types out there who are just as intolerant and judgmental about people who like a little Latin or the E.F. Mass; to the Nutting N.O. Catholic, anybody who rejects the architectural pinnacle of the Church in the Round, dislikes clapping, thinks that a parish full of wealthy Americans can afford to do better than a guitar and a pair of cymbals for their musical instruments, or is noticeably uncomfortable at a Mass that is clearly being haunted by that unquiet ghost, the Spirit of Vatican II, is just a fuddy-duddy Pharisee from Company T (the T, of course, stands for Tradition).

The point, of course, is that if we're all about roaming the aisles of our parish church with a pair of tweezers to remove the splinters from our neighbors' eyes while we ignore the fact that they are ducking and covering to avoid being smacked in the head by the giant two-by-four jutting out of our own ocular organs, we're not really approaching the matter as Christ would. He made it pretty clear that He wants us to practice charity toward each other instead of being fixated on other people's sins, foibles, and shortcomings while ignoring our own. And we can't practice charity toward people if we've already decided the only way to deal with them is to shake the dust of their parish off of our feet and march off in high dudgeon as we search for the elusive Church of the Purely Pure.

None of that is to say either that liturgy is not important--it is, tremendously so--or that we never have a reason to leave a parish where, for example, heresy is being openly and defiantly taught, rubrics are being laughed out the non-stained glass windows, and naked contempt for the Pope, or the teachings of the Church in serious areas, or any such thing is being practiced; we do, and should, leave such parishes, and we should also document all of the irregularities and send them to the proper authorities in the diocese and beyond.

But there's a big difference between being aghast and frustrated at a parish priest who teaches that Mary and Joseph went on to have other kids and that Mary certainly did sin, and that the Eucharist isn't really Jesus (to use some extreme examples) and being just as aghast and frustrated that lay people are allowed to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion, or that there are altar girls, or that some people receive Our Eucharistic Lord in their hands. Whether, within the confines of an abstract liturgical discussion, we can opine that some of these practices are misguided or have had unfortunate if unintended consequences is one thing; whether we insist that we really know better than the Church does and that liturgies or liturgical practices which the Church allows and celebrates are dangerous to the faith and ought to be eradicated is quite another.

Which is why I was a little bit amused--darkly, perhaps--that one of Mark's combox critics scolded him for writing all of this and not even mentioning Summorum Pontificum or the recently released Universae Ecclesiae which clarify the faithful's right to ask for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the duty to grant that request provided there are priests properly trained to celebrate it available: because, presumably, Mark's whole point is somehow invalidated by the existence of these two documents. Mark's quite reasonable reply that he had written the Crisis piece before Universae Ecclesiae had been released (owing to the publishing world's tendency to want to have things in hand, read them, edit them a bit, etc. before hitting the "publish" button) was a mild and irenic response; I'm afraid, in such a situation, I would have been tempted to use the commenter's gripe as a Soapbox Moment. Yes, these documents have been released. And yes, they make it clear what Summorum Pontificum did: the faithful may ask for the Extraordinary Form, and the priest who is able to say it may agree. But what these documents do not say--what, I learned, many online RadTrad bloggers and commenters had secretly hoped that Universae Ecclesiae, at least, would say, is that henceforth and forthwith the Novus Ordo Mass is no longer the Ordinary Form, and is, in fact, so egregiously deficient, Freemasonish, and dangerous to all the faithful that it is hereby banned forever, and its books shall be burned and their ashes salted and buried, and the Church humbly apologizes to everybody for ever thinking it was a good idea when clearly no reform was ever necessary at all, and a forty-year period of penance and reparation is immediately instituted and shall be binding upon all the faithful except those who had the wisdom and foresight to attend the E.F. Mass exclusively from the earliest days of Ecclesia Dei who are exempt from these penitential requirements, and from now on the Extraordinary Form is the Ordinary Form and lay people are prohibited from--well, everything--and every Catholic high school in the world has to teach in Latin exclusively after the freshman year. Oh, and women have to wear waist-length lace veils over their no-less-than-eight-inches-below-knee-dresses whenever they are within ten miles of a Catholic parish.

I may be exaggerating a tad. But seriously, I have seen, in the days leading up to the release of Universae Ecclesiae, the confident opinion expressed on all sorts of Trad sites that the Novus Ordo is on its way out; the Church plans to do away with it; it will die a natural death in the next thirty or forty years; the Extraordinary Form Mass is the true Mass and the other is a sad mess; if any good ever comes out of an N.O. parish it's certainly not the fruit of that horrible liturgy; souls are being lost because they go along with the whole EMHC/Communion in the hand/altar girl unholy trio; God is not looking favorably on anybody who thinks the Ordinary Form is just fine.

It's a little shocking to encounter those sorts of opinions, and realize that these Catholics are not only speaking so contemptuously of their fellow Catholics--they are speaking contemptuously of the Church's Ordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I find it just as shocking when, say, the National Catholic Reporter or some similar paper or site speaks contemptuously of the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or of the people who assist at it. Examples of that have abounded in the past, and continue to crop up; perhaps that's why those who assist at the E.F. Mass feel entitled to bash the O.F. But both sides need to cut it out: the Mass is the Mass, and bashing either Mass is bashing Our Lord and His Eucharistic gift to the Church and to the world.

Which is why Mark is right to warn that allowing oneself to stew in negativity and bitterness of this sort--whether from the side that wants Latin and veils, or the side that likes EMHCs and Communion in the hand--is ultimately a path out of the Church altogether. It's terribly easy to go from "Thank you, Lord, for not making me like these idiots!" to "Why, Lord, are you making me put up with these idiots?" to "Okay, Lord, I'm going to find You somewhere where there aren't any idiots at all!" even if that last option leads away from the Church and down the road of schism, sedevacantism, Protestantism, or whatever "-ism" most appeals to the person concerned.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life without transcendence

Zurich voters have voted to keep profiting from suicide tourism:
(AP) ZURICH - Voters in the Swiss canton (or state) of Zurich have overwhelmingly rejected calls to ban assisted suicide or to outlaw the practice for nonresidents.

Zurich's cantonal voters overwhelmingly rejected both measures Sunday that had been pushed by political and religious conservatives.

Out of more than 278,000 ballots cast, the initiative to ban assisted suicide was rejected by 85 percent of voters and the initiative to outlaw it for foreigners was turned down by 78 percent, according to Zurich authorities.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, provided the helper doesn't personally benefit from a patient's death. About 200 people a year commit suicide in Zurich.

I first saw this article at a news site which allows comments, and the comments were overwhelmingly in favor of suicide for the terminally ill, the elderly, the handicapped, and anyone else who no longer enjoys "quality of life," which is apparently defined by the ability to maintain a trendy home, dash off on destination vacations, work long hours for the right sort of people, and shop for cool toys and couture fashion at America's most religiously-attended structures, otherwise known as shopping centers, malls, strip malls, or misleadingly named "town squares" (and this is off-topic, but the couple of times I've had the misfortune of actually setting foot in that place linked to I have honestly felt like the whole thing is frighteningly unreal in a rather evil way; but then, I'm a writer, and thus prone to fits of imagination). Anyone who is not capable of these things by age or infirmity or physical condition no longer has any reason to live--well, except, possibly, for Stephen Hawking, but at least he has the right sort of socially acceptable ideas about God and Heaven, because heaven forbid anyone should actually embrace physical limitations in a redemptive and sacrificial way, or anything.

We have become a people without hope, living a life without transcendence. Nowhere is this more truly reflected than in the callous ugliness displayed toward the unborn, the elderly, the infirm, and the handicapped. Society strongly believes, for example, that Down Syndrome babies are better off dead than ever being born; here on this blog a commenter displayed the eugenic belief that even if anencephalic babies are allowed to be born they aren't really people (and, presumably, we could dispose of them if they didn't die quickly enough, though we didn't get into that particular corollary); and thus it's no surprise to see commenter after commenter on the Zurich-suicide tourism story applauding Zurich for their enlightened move away from the superstitious religious belief that it's somehow distasteful or not quite--quite to off Granny while she's still somewhat functional rather than wait for her natural death to occur, and have to put up with all of her embarrassing symptoms of decline and her accompanying needs for assistance. Let's face it: assisted suicide is lots, lots easier than having to give up some of your own precious shopping, working, vacation time to help an old woman with her daily hygiene and the medicine regimen that keeps her pain at a distance and her symptoms from distressing her, right? Why should the young and strong and healthy and bright have to help the old and weak and suffering? Assisted living requires sacrifice; assisted suicide means you can even plan the funeral for the most convenient time for those family members still unenlightened enough to think that some sort of prayer ritual is required for the waste disposal of human remains.

Of course, the proponents of offing inconvenient relatives never think of it that way. They think they are really concerned about the suffering of the person who can't participate in any of life's meaningful consumer activities anymore. They compare the situation to that of an animal: why, we don't let cats or dogs suffer at the end of their lives, so why should Grandpa have to? A more human age saw Grandpa as fundamentally different from a cat or a dog, and thought of human life as intrinsically worthy of respect, but today's people are agreed that only superstitious religious types think there is an afterlife--and if Grandpa is nothing but a chunk of living carbon occupying space, it's much better to speed him along his inevitable journey than to worry about what some hypothetical God who is alleged to have made man in His image and likeness thinks about murder dressed up as compassion. Once Grandpa couldn't golf anymore, or take Grandma to Miami Beach, or continue to dabble in the stock market, then Grandpa became no more worthy of respect or dignity than the family dog--and if truth is told, fewer tears will be shed when Grandpa's plug gets pulled than when Rusty had to be put down after thousands of dollars of dog-cancer treatment failed; Rusty was sort of nice to have around, but Grandpa was difficult, and cranky, and inclined to think he knew everything simply because he was older and had lived through more than his children had.

But there is a danger in a societal belief that life has no transcendent meaning, and it's a danger that has been seen in the last century time and time again. A society begins by agreeing that the old, the infirm, the handicapped aren't really enjoying any quality of life and should be killed as quickly, quietly and conveniently as possible and ends by marching all sorts of people, even the young and able-bodied, into the ovens. If God is not the only authority on when life should end, that authority soon gets passed along to an apathetic committee of an atheistic government who starts to put cost-benefit values on everybody, and sees no one's life as intrinsically worthy of living or respecting.

I think we're well along our way to becoming that sort of society, a society where "Life without transcendence!" begins as a rallying cry against religion and ends as a epitaph for a once-great people. Convinced that life means nothing, that we mean nothing, that the universe means nothing, and that existence is nothing but an evolutionary joke at our expense, there soon becomes no reason not to embrace the most shallow of existences, to fill the dreaded hours with busy work and busy play and busy shopping and busy entertainment, and to avoid all thought of the shuddering horror of the abyss of ceasing to be by demanding that we eradicate pain and suffering by eradicating the pain-ridden and the sufferer--so we won't have to think about them, or about the oblivion beyond, at all.

Some of us, of course, reject that nihilistic view of life, and are capable of praying for the grace of a happy death--one which, even if it includes suffering, also includes the grace of the sacraments and the fervent prayers of those who love us for our salvation and our entry into eternal life. The consequences of our beliefs, though, is that we also believe that it matters how we live--that we are not simply to indulge our every desire, lust, passion, gluttony or greed so long as we live, and put ourselves out of our misery when we can no longer do so. The world can't even fathom such a notion--what, are we to avoid doing whatever the Hell we want with our lives, since only the Hell of oblivion awaits? Unable to fathom a real choice between a Hell which will not involve oblivion at all and a Heaven that will surpass our earthly longings in a way we can't even imagine, the children of this age clamor for assisted suicide the same way they clamored for sex without consequences, for abortion, for greed, and for every other noxious thing. Because if nothing but oblivion awaits, why shouldn't they get to pull the plug on Grandma and Grandpa--and then look forward to the day when their grandchildren will pull the plug on them?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dressed-up xenophobic nonsense

I usually enjoy reading things that John Zmirak writes, though I'll admit that I've only seen his pieces sporadically. Still, I was tremendously disappointed to read this recent piece in which he says that working for amnesty for illegal immigrants will guarantee more abortion:

If we were to grant amnesty — the full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, collect government benefits, and use affirmative action at the expense of (for instance) impoverished white male war veterans — to the estimated 10-12 million illegal immigrants in America, we would be adding at the very least 6.3-8 million liberal, pro-abortion voters. No, these recent illegals need not, by the laws of physics, vote for liberal, pro-abortion Democrats. But that is how they will vote, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Anyone who claims to value unborn life, who favors padding the voter rolls with those who will vote to leave the unborn unprotected, is also either lying or simply and doggedly refusing to consider the consequences of his actions. A school bus driver who downs a fifth of Jim Beam before climbing behind the wheel might not have intended manslaughter against his tiny passengers — but when he crashes them into a wall, that is how the prosecutor will charge him.

I do not wish to imply that those who know how amnestied illegals are almost certain to vote and who still favor amnesty are not, in cold fact, pro-life. I would never leave such a statement to mere implication. I wish to say it outright: Those who favor amnesty for illegal immigrants are not, in cold fact, pro-life. That goes for politicians and voters, bishops and priests, men, women, and children, red and yellow, black and white. Such people may be pro-life in theory, as thousands of antebellum Southerners claimed to be inward abolitionists. But those who lobbied for admitting new slave states to the Union knew that their actions spoke louder than words. No one who really believes that abortion is a life-and-death issue will allow any secondary considerations (economic “justice,” “diversity,” or misguided compassion for lawbreakers) to trump the legal murder of a million Americans each year. This amnesty — proposed by a president who, as a senator, fought almost singlehandedly to keep partial-birth abortion legal — will make such legalized murder permanent. End of story.

All due respect to Zmirak, but that's not just nonsense; it's pernicious, ugly, xenophobic nonsense dressed up to resemble pro-life conservatism.

Jack Smith at the Catholic Key blog says it better than I can:

As a DREAM Act supporter, I suppose it accuses me of being “not, in cold fact, pro-life”. So, when I founded a pro-life club in my liberal Catholic high school with no faculty sponsor, collected a string of arrests for blockading abortion clinics across the country, canonically sued my liberal Catholic college for forcing the student union to support a pro-choice group – and got kicked out, ran numerous pro-life campaigns in California, battled squishy priests and chancery rats as editor of the diocesan paper in San Francisco and volunteered at a myriad of direct pro-life ministries over almost every decade of my life, I was merely collecting social capital in Pelosiville. I collected so much social capital in my San Francisco of five generations that I now live in Kansas City. (Thank God!, btw)

Mother Teresa would not meet Zmirak’s pro-life test. But I suppose that’s conjecture – We cannot know for certain whether Mother Teresa would have supported sending the children of illegal immigrants, who know no other country than the U.S., to a homeless existence in a foreign country – a necessary qualification for being pro-life in Zmirak’s world.

To be fair, Zmirak doesn't bring up the DREAM Act in his piece at Crisis Magazine which I linked to above; Smith provides the source for Zmirak's disapproval of the DREAM Act in his piece. But what Zmirak does say boils down to the following:
  • Illegal immigrants, if granted amnesty and full citizenship, will vote for Democrats;
  • Voting for Democrats causes abortion to remain enshrined in law, while only voting for Republicans can stop it;
  • Thus, allowing illegal immigrants to become full citizens with voting rights will derail all pro-life legislation;
  • Therefore, the solution is to create a permanent class of second-class citizens who bear all the responsibilities of citizenship (taxation, etc.) without ever being permitted the most important right of citizenship, the right to vote.
Did I already use the phrase "pernicious nonsense?" I did? Let's move on, then.

If illegal immigrants, granted amnesty and a path to citizenship, eventually become Democratic Party supporters and voters, whose fault will that be? Remember, there's no guarantee that this would happen; Zmirak seems to be conflating "illegal immigrants" with "Hispanic voters" and further presuming that all Hispanic voters will always vote for Democrats (which would probably surprise, say, the Cuban-American community considerably). But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the majority of illegal immigrants present in our country today are Hispanic and that they tend to have as favorable a view of Democrats as Hispanic-Americans generally do. Would that be, perhaps, because the Democrats aren't sitting around spitballing about ways to defeat amnesty, create a permanent class of second-class citizens, or otherwise make it harder for illegal immigrants to pursue a path to regularize their situations in this country? And could the Republican Party do more, perhaps, to reach out to the Hispanic-American community especially on the social issues where we have a great deal of common ground?

Of course, that presumes that Zmirak's second point is accurate, and that voting for Republicans will stop abortion. How many Republican presidents have we had since 1973? How many of them have made Supreme Court appointments? How many times has the House, the Senate, or both been controlled by Republicans? How many "moderate" (e.g., pro-abortion) Republicans are in the House and Senate right now, fighting against even the most modest pro-life initiatives?

Sure, at the state and local level committed pro-life Republicans have begun to make a real difference. But is it a given that former illegal immigrants will always vote against these people?

Let's face it. At the national level the two parties are perfectly happy to maintain the present level of detente on abortion. In fact, I would say the goals and aims of the two parties, again at the national level, are very similar; it is only their methods and some other details that differ.

Because what both parties want, ultimately, is to win elections and thus increase their own power, wealth and influence by planned encroachments on private-sector activities. They differ in three areas: the target of encroachment, the speed at which the encroachment is to take place, and the amount of confiscatory taxation that will be needed to pay for it all.

Republicans, for instance, want to increase the size of the military and interfere with citizens' privacy on the grounds that national security demands this; they are also in favor, for another example, of using taxpayer money to bail out huge multinational corporations in times of economic stress. They are more patient then Democrats, mainly because it's hard for them to run as "Main Street vs. Wall Street" candidates if they make their endgame too obvious; and they like being the party of tax cuts, which means that they're willing to slow the rate of confiscatory taxation and create the illusion that they want taxpayers to keep more of our own money.

Democrats, of course, want to run healthcare and interfere with citizens' property rights in the name of the environment. They like to create an aura of urgency (e.g., people will die on the streets of their health problems caused by global warming if the government doesn't fix everything right away), and they are more transparent about their intention to practice predatory taxation for the good of the nation.

Abortion, gay marriage, and other social issues are merely a distraction to the national parties--useful when they can be dragged out to garner support at election time, but otherwise only useful if they happen to overlap an already-existing goal (e.g., taxpayer funding of abortion in government-run healthcare).

Sadly, I suspect that the issue of illegal immigration, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and related issues are also under the heading of "distraction" to the major parties at the national level. In this, too, I disagree strongly with Zmirak when he writes:
We probably should be grateful that the raid that enacted justice on the mass-murdering orthodox Muslim Osama bin Laden did not yield thousands of captives for a parade through New York City — as cathartic as they might have momentarily been. However, the president has not been slow to follow the rest of the pagan precedent, using his surge of popularity to press for special favors that will benefit his faction. No sooner have the crabs done picking the bones of bin Laden than President Barack Obama has announced another push to obtain legal amnesty and citizenship for the many millions of illegal aliens who still reside in the United States — who, as soon as they are legal, will prove ideal recruits for the Abortion (i.e., Democratic) Party.
Solving the problem of illegal immigration by creating an amnesty program won't create any new voters in time for the 2012 presidential election; appearing to care about illegal immigration and amnesty programs, however, just might--just as appearing to care about ending abortion once every four years works in favor of the Republicans at the national level. If anyone thinks today's Democratic Party leaders are altruistic enough to want to "fix" the problem of illegal immigration today for some voting benefits that might accrue to them (or, realistically, to their unknown successors) in a decade or so--well, I've got a box full of ballots from a precinct in Miami I can let you have cheaply.

No, I suspect that the Democrats want to "fix" illegal immigration with the same focus and urgency with which the Republicans at the national level have moved for the last 38 years on the abortion issue. Why fix something that's not broken, after all? So long as pro-amnesty voters will succumb to emotional appeals and vote for Democrats, while pro-life voters will succumb to similarly emotional appeals to vote for Republicans (sometimes without even bothering to find out whether the lady with the "R" next to her name is a member of this group or this one), what's there to fix?

What might be a real game-changer would be if some of us who are Catholic and conservative and formed by our Church's social teachings would work for a humane policy that might possibly even permit amnesty for those immigrants here who deserve it, while concurrently demanding exponential increases in punishments and fines for those who hire illegals or bring them here to work in defiance of our laws--all while loudly advocating for the right to life of every person from conception to natural death, a stewardship model for the environment that respects private property but sets sane regulation, a vision of military strength which does not require America to intervene in every "War on Terror" scenario that exists around the world, a realistic reform of health care that respects doctors and patients foremost, and insurance companies and bureaucrats much less...I could go on, but you get the point.

What won't be a game-changer is if we peddle dressed-up xenophobic nonsense as an excuse to oppose the very possibility of amnesty for some out of a nakedly partisan desire to keep the number of people who will vote for Democrats low, as if that is a guaranteed way, or perhaps the only way, to end the evil of abortion on demand in America. A truly pro-life ethos would avoid labeling a whole group of people as "the enemy" from an election perspective, and assuming that they aren't even reachable by pro-life activism; such an amount of disrespect for our brothers and sisters--many of them really our brothers and sisters in Christ--is hardly pro-life at all.